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Taking a server's recommendation

The situation: you're visiting an upscale casual restaurant for dinner. Entrees of beef, chicken, fish and pasta are offered. The full sandwich board is also available. You have the thought, "I'll ask my wait person what they think the kitchen does best."

Would you vocalize that thought?

Would you then take the recommendation of your server?

I may find myself in that situation tonight.

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  1. unscrupulous servers often recommend the priciest items. a better question might be what's most popular or what's the chef's signature dish ?

    2 Replies
      1. re: Griller

        oops, didn't mean to be condescending. it is a good thought!

    1. I think it's generally obvious (!?) if someone recommends the priciest option, then you know right away to not take their recommendation.
      If however you have a conversation about what you feel like eating, I think the server's rec is an excellent basis for ordering. this has been my experience in almost every restaurant.

      1. Years ago, we all ate at a downtown restaurant for lunch a lot and when the weather was bad, we'd use the back door closer to our office building.
        One day, the message on the blackboard in the service area said, "Push the Pork Chops!" Of course we couldn't resist asking the waiter what he recommended. Choking back laughter, we ordered them anyway.
        They were delicious.
        We asked the chef on our way out the back and he said he had just mistakenly double ordered...

        1. I usually ask if I'm torn between two dishes. I find that servers are generally psyched to tell you what they think, and I've never had a disappointing meal...

          1. I sometimes do ask if I am torn between two things. However, last time I really too a server's advice I ended up with beef cheeks, Yes, I know they are popular now. Just not with me. My Latin isn't very good, but I think Caveat Emptor (sp??) applies here - I hope I got the right phrase - "Buyer Beware!"

            1. Agreed, I only ask if I'm conflicted or two things look good. If it's a choice between two I'll even ask - which of these two are better prepared. I never ask for a recommendation but instead ask "what's good" or "what's fresh". I know, sematics but slightly less subjective and less projecting on what they'd serve me.

              Also, usually ask a second question if it sounds like they're pushing something, like "so it's really fresh?" (in a nice way). Often times I find the wait person will fess up (with a little body language) by telling me under their breath what to get or by pointing really quickly without saying anything.

              1. For me, I do not see the value or sense in asking a total stranger (the waiter) what dish he or she happens to like. What does that have to do with what I might like? Asking about ingredients, prep and flavor details for two or three dishes to help decide makes sense. Then just pick one. It's only food. You'll have another chance to eat again soon.

                6 Replies
                1. re: itsonlyfood

                  What do mean, "it's only food"??!!

                  1. re: hrhboo

                    I take it to mean its not like you are purchasing a car when you are dining out. You get other chances to choose again.

                    1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                      Oh, I understood that much! But I get seriously bummed out when I waste a meal on something less than awesome. Thankfully, it doesn't happen very often!

                  2. re: itsonlyfood

                    Hmmm, sounds like what we do on these boards--ask total strangers their opinions on food...;-)

                    1. re: itsonlyfood

                      The waiter is someone who is around the food every single day. They don't know what you specifically prefer, but they do know what dishes are extremely popular and which ones always find their way to the dishwasher only half eaten.

                      Some eat to live, others live to eat. For me, I want it to be "only" food as little as possible.

                      1. re: itsonlyfood

                        I agree, it is always hard to tell if the server is well versed in the meals that are served or has only had samples of the dishes. Asking how a dish is prepared is more in the scope of the waiters knowledge. BTW, I appreciate your outlook "It's only food. You'll have another chance to eat again soon." Puts the whole eating out and taking risks in perspective. Thanks.

                      2. I agree! The waiter's taste or standards are not mine. I might ask what the chef is most proud of or known for, or something to that effect.

                        But I usually cringe when a dining companion asks the server what is his fave. Who cares? Certainly not I.

                        And yes, I remember when I was a busboy and the chef would tell us what to push, based on what was in excess supply!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Leonardo

                          I often ask what's the waiter's fave if I'm in the mood to try something different than what I already know I like. As good as throwing a dart at the menu, I guess, but more fun and personable, and at least I know *someone* likes it.

                        2. I think it makes sense to ask the question if you are open to anything. But if you only like fish or chicken, or meat, or veggies, then it's better to ask between the two categories.

                          1. I often go to restaurants that I've never tried, and I ALWAYS ask the waiter "what's the best dish" when I'm trying a new restaurant. Obviously they know the menu and the kitchen better than me.

                            Sometimes they recommend the priciest dish just because that's what they are instructed. But most times, they tell you the honest answer. Sometimes I've actually had them steer me away from what the kitchen was pushing.

                            My philosophy is that if I'm trying something new, I might as well use all the available help to steer me to the good stuff.

                            I may overpay, but I usually get a good meal.

                            On the second visit, I usually have the lay of the land, and I order from the menu.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: lil mikey

                              So, what if the most expensive dish is the best dish?

                              1. re: Blueicus

                                I normally go with the server's suggestion, and it's often one of the more expensive, if not the most expensive dish. For example, they sometimes recommend a sampler plate. These are more expensive than the other plates, but I get a good sense of what the kitchen can do.

                            2. I used to date a girl who never even looked at menus in restaurants. She either asked me to order for her or, if she asked the servers what they'd recommend.

                              I actually really enjoyed doing the ordering for her. We all know there's a connection between food and eroticism (right?) and putting together a meal for her was very sensual.

                              1. This debate could go on forever. Really it's a matter of what kind of server you have: 1.) someone who is there only for the dollar ( and therefore recommends either one of the most expensive entrees, or something that will require an accompaniment ) or 2.) someone who will shoot you straight and tell you really how they feel ( because they sincerely want you to have a great experience ). Sadly, it's hard to tell between the two. I've found the best way to do it is to take 2 or 3 dishes and ask which they would choose between them. That way they know you want to know which is the best and they are more likely to give their honest opinion.

                                1. Here's the thing--the "push the pork chops" comment is common. If a chef only has a day or two left of wholsomeness on his fish or meat, he's gonna ask the waiters to push it--otherwise it goes to waste, or returns a much lower profit as a part of seafood salad.
                                  Plus, and I'm sorry to offend any waiters out there, there's nothing in a waiter's job description that says that they know anything about food, or that have discriminating palates, or know good from bad. Often, they've never even tasted the dishes --after all, what chef is going to give waiters a 30 entree?. Plus, many are young kids who have never really eaten around -- their idea of really great might be a strawberry margarita and a Bloomin Onion.
                                  I'd rather the waiter can describe (in detail) ingredients and techniques to me rather than tell me what he or she thinks is awesome.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: nrxchef

                                    I'm a waiter, and I'm not offended. In fact, you make some very good points. Generally, waiters learn their way around the menu in time. If your waiter is obviously a veteran at the restaurant, they will probably be much better at steering you in the proper direction. We are certainly not given a taste of every dish upon hire. Some restaurants will give the servers a taste of the special each night; sadly, many do not.

                                    When people ask my advice from our rather extensive menu, I usually give three or more options, thus, hopefully allaying fears that I am pushing the most expensive item, (which I happen to love). I know three is an awful lot, it's just that our menu is so large as to be somewhat overwhelming to the first-timer.

                                  2. This is a tough one...as the responses so far imply.

                                    Having waitressed for years throughout school, I can say servers are under pressure from the chef to sell what might go off in a few days as well as from the management to sell sell sell..if it is what the customer wants or not.

                                    I always try to be honest about what I think is the best item when asked however, what might turn my crank isn't necessarily going to do the same for you. I always try to give the most complete description of the dish possible.

                                    I would say if you ask that question and order the server's suggestion be prepared to be flexible or not like the dish as much as you had hoped....I mean you get what you ask for and in this case it is someone else's preference.

                                    1. If I'm torn between 2 things I often ask. Back in the day when I was a server we were encouraged to taste the food. One of the things I do is watch the server carefully because they'll occasionally give you a head shake when you mention a dish. They don't want to say it isn't popular but will give a little shake. I NEVER order that dish. Of course it could be just their taste but they usually know what goes over well with their customers. JMHO, Linda

                                      1. I recently read Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential". I should of never read it, beacause now, I can't help but remember what he wrote about "specials" and "buffet brunches". If I want left overs or food that needs to be used, I'll just eat at home. What's happened to me now is I don't even care about the specials and it could be the best thing ever and I'll never know.

                                        I don't think anyone will tell you when you ask them "is the fish fresh?" NO. Coming from someone who won't drink the milk on the day of expiration (even though they say it's good for 5 more days) Ha! Not a chance.

                                        1. I find it most effective to ask when torn between a few dishes, or to ask what the house does well. Asking too open a question, "what's good?", doesn't often get the response you wanted. As others have pointed out, the server doesn't know what you like, and you don't know what the server likes.

                                          It is sometimes hard to tell if the server will only try to sell you the most expensive items, but it has been my experience that these servers are the minority. My feeling was always that it would be best for all involved if the guest was happy with the food, so I always answered as honestly as possible, with as much detail as possible: x is good if you are looking for something lighter, y is good if you enjoy bleu cheese.

                                          Linda V just mentioned the head shake, and that makes a lot of sense. I once worked somewhere where the crabcakes were terrible. they were really mediocre--$30 of mediocre. When guests would ask how they were I would say, "if you're interested in seafood, the grilled tuna, grilled shrimp, and fish of the day are all really wonderful," hoping they would get the hint. (Sometimes they would then ask, "so the crabcakes aren't good?" and I would say that I thought the other items were better and try to convey though my demeanor that I indeed *was* saying that they weren't good.) I would have preferred to say that the crabcakes were terrible, but that would have endangered my job. Paying attention to the server's answers and the server's body language is a really good idea.

                                          (And please don't respond with a series of comments about how I should have left a job because the restaurant served bad crabcakes or because I didn't feel I could say that to a guest. Good serving jobs are actually quite difficult to find. I held that one for nearly four years despite the fact that the owner was a soulless tyrranical pothead because if offered me a number of positives that I couldn't have found anywhere else. Sometimes you have to do a job that isn't perfect for a variety of reasons--personal, financial, and professional.)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: nc213

                                            Well put nc213, when I was working a second job years ago to make ends meet I did the very same thing. An italian restautant that claimed to have it's own pasta. Ha, it came out of that blue and yellow box. And astute woman challenged me with it saying her bowl of penne tasted like "boxed" pasta...I called my manager over.
                                            And it wasn't that it was terrible, just not what they were expecting, which was fresh pasta.

                                            On dishes that in my opinion were substandard, I told them I was sorry but I'd never tried them.

                                          2. Here's a thought: the waiter is interested in getting a good tip. i.e. They want you to enjoy your food, so they'll choose what they think you will most enjoy. At most places waiters are good sources for this.

                                            1. When I was a server, I would recommend what I actually thought was good, not mattering on the price and boy would I get the evil eye from other servers!

                                              1. Maybe and maybe, and a definite ditto on "non verbal" communication in more ways than one. Apart from the old get-rid-of-yesterday's special sales push, I've been burned too many times by servers with obviously non-functional tastebuds, or a complete lack of interest, so I'm wary.

                                                I don't ask that often, I do usually limit the request ("of these 2 or 3, which am I likely to prefer if I'm looking for 'X' ") and when I do I try to read between the lines of their response to get a sense whether it's a "real" reccomendation (or disrecommendation), a sales pitch or just a careless "whatever" sort of reply, and go from there.

                                                IMX, anyway, it's fairly rare to get a real, reliable reccomendation from most servers, at least until they become a little familiar if not actually friendly. Someone is less likely to be careless, I think, with a repeat customer and if you've gotten to be even the least bit friendly, they're less likely to worry about getting "busted" for steering you away from something.

                                                1. Asking a server's preference between two or three dishes can often elicit useful information - not the least of which might be "Don't take this person's recommendation."

                                                  1. i agree that you can figure out a lot from asking someone's reccomendation-- if they can't describe the food other than "i like it" they are a nubie! i often ask for a rec from the server because you can tell a lot about the server's experience & their attitude toward the chef & establishment from the WAY they answer, not necessarily what they SAY. it's a bummer to realize you're dealing with a 19 year old drone who couldn't care less about the menu or your table's enjoyment of the food, but i will say that it's wonderful to come across a server who shares his/her insight into various dishes on a menu, the chef in the kitchen, origin of ingredients, method of preparation, etc. these people are treasures & they love being trusted & consulted-- they give great recs because they care, and they often stay at the same establishment for a long time. when i see a server who gave me a great rec the last time, i ask the host for my pary to be seated in her/his section, and boom: we're usually remembered from our last exchange, next thing i know we're regulars, get great recs and great service, and voila, the server is not "a complete stranger", but a trusted resource for enjoying our meal & time together :*)

                                                    1. Well, I did get to ask the question. "What's the kitchen's signature dish?" Our server responded that the pub really didn't have a signature dish, but she could tell me the most popular. (they offered six steak entrees, six chicken entrees four pasta entrees, and five fish entrees!)(but none was a "signature" dish!) Turns out that the two most popular dishes were English-style Fish and Chips, and Almond Crusted Whitefish. Both of which were on the low to middle price range of their offerings. So, going with the flow, I ordered the English-style Fish and Chips. The dish came to me so deep-fried hard it was dry and inedible. So much for following popular opinion.

                                                      My mate didn't ask for help. She chose one of the restaurant's Sunday Specials, a cut of Prime Rib that I can only describe as "generous", which also turned out truly delicious.

                                                      Lesson learned: choose what you have a hankerin' for.